In 2011, the federal government, excluding the Postal Service, is the Nation’s largest employer with about 2.0 million civilian employees.
As 2011, the federal government’s equal employment opportunity policy reads:
The United States Government does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability and genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, or other non-merit factor. — USAJOBS, the official job site of the U.S. Federal Government [usajobs.gov]
Federal civil service law bars discrimination based on “conduct which does not adversely affect the performance of the employee or applicant or the performance of others.” Since the Reagan administration of the 1980s, this statute has been interpreted by the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Justice to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation against civilian employees in much of the executive branch.
In 1998, President Clinton issued Executive Order 13087, reinforcing this commitment to non-discrimination in the federal workforce with explicit protections based on sexual orientation.
It is the policy of the government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in federal employment for all persons to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age or sexual orientation through a continuing affirmative program in each executive department and agency. This policy of equal employment opportunity applies to and must be an integral part of every aspect of personnel policy and practice in the employment, development, advancement and treatment of civilian employees of the federal government, to the extent permitted by law.
— Section 1, Executive Order 11478 (1969), as amended by Executive Order 13087
The Office of Special Counsel — the agency charged with prosecuting claims under the civil service statute described above — do appear to follow the executive order, with some holding events in June in honor of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer pride month. The Office of Special Counsel continues accepting allegations of discrimination based on sexual orientation for investigation and possible enforcement.
The Obama-Biden Administration adopted an equal employment opportunity policy that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity from the outset, with the following language appearing on its website for Presidential Appointments in January 2009.
The Obama-Biden Administration does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other basis of discrimination prohibited by law.
In June 2009, President Obama issued a “Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination,” which is expected to provide some level of guidance prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
Sec. 3. Promoting Compliance with Existing Law Requiring Federal Workplaces to be Free of Discrimination Based on Non-Merit Factors. The Office of Personnel Management shall issue guidance within 90 days to all executive departments and agencies regarding compliance with, and implementation of, the civil service laws, rules, and regulations, including 5 U.S.C. 2302(b)(10), which make it unlawful to discriminate against Federal employees or applicants for Federal employment on the basis of factors not related to job performance.
In July 2014, President Obama signed an executive order protecting federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it turns out to be good business. That’s why a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place. It is not just about doing the right thing — it’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent. And there are several business leaders who are here today who will attest to that.
Domestic Partner Benefits
Recognition of same-sex domestic partners of federal employees is inconsistent between varying offices of the federal government, and generally falls far short of similar benefits programs provided by private sector U.S. employers, particularly around hard benefits such as health insurance coverage.
In June 2009, President Obama issued a “Memorandum on Federal Benefits and Non-Discrimination.” Generally, this memorandum paves the way for the federal government to provide limited benefits (i.e., not including health insurance) to domestic partners of federal employees:
Sec. 1. Extension of Identified Benefits. The Secretary of State and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management shall, in consultation with the Department of Justice, extend the benefits they have respectively identified to qualified same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees where doing so can be achieved and is consistent with Federal law.
Sec. 2. Review of Governmentwide Benefits. The heads of all other executive departments and agencies, in consultation with the Office of Personnel Management, shall conduct a review of the benefits provided by their respective departments and agencies to determine what authority they have to extend such benefits to same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees. The results of this review shall be reported within 90 days to the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, who, in consultation with the Department of Justice, shall recommend to me any additional measures that can be taken, consistent with existing law, to provide benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal Government employees.
Although similar protections do not extend to the legislative or judicial branches of the federal government, organizations also exist to support those LGBTQ employees. Federal GLOBE is a nonprofit organization for LGBTQ federal employees that includes board members from departments such as the State Department, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the General Accounting Office. Organizations also exist to support LGBT congressional staffers.
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